By: Rasa Sarwari

Yemeni children among a ruined neighbourhood.  Source:

The conflict in Yemen is often referred to as the “forgotten war”. But it is not forgotten by the Saudi-led coalition, which includes; Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan, UAE, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan. This coalition has been indiscriminately bombing Yemen and blockading most of the country, leaving “78% of Yemen’s population in urgent need of food, water and medical aid”.

During the wake of the Yemeni civil war, Saudi Arabia declared its backing of the ousted President Hadi, and in order to sway the tides of the civil war Saudi Arabia, formed a coalition with nine other Arab nations to prop up the Hadi government, which led to the beginning of Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

Since the coalition began its intervention in Yemen a UN report has “verified a sixfold increase in the number of children killed and maimed compared with 2014 …of the casualties, 60 per cent were attributed to the Saudi Arabia-led coalition.

The Saudi-led coalition has designated entire provinces, such as the governorate of Sa’ada as a military target, drawing no distinction between civilian and military targets. Ban Ki Moon, the General Secretary for the UN even pointed out that “coalition air strikes in particular continue to strike hospitals, schools, mosques and civilian infrastructures”. In addition, coalition forces continue to use blacklisted weapons such as cluster bombs, in their aerial assaults, which have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and loss of innocent life in Yemen.

Use of blacklisted cluster bombs by Saudi-led Coalition in Yemen. Source:


Saudi Arabia’s strong arming tactics

Saudi Arabia’s continued intervention in Yemen has left most of the country’s infrastructure in ruin, and led to the unwarranted death of countless civilians. In lieu of a swift victory the Saudi-led coalition has been entangled in a protracted conflict which seems to have no end in sight. This conflict has been tainted with numerous atrocities, and the UN had acknowledged this fact in the May of 2016, when they added Saudi Arabia to a blacklist of groups that were violating children’s rights in armed conflict.

However, this ban didn’t stop Saudi intervention in Yemen, as Saudi Arabia strong armed and used “massive pressure” to remove themselves from the blacklist. Saudi Arabia had threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for Palestinian aid and other UN programs, moreover Saudi Arabia’s allies also threatened to do the same. This tactic put enormous pressure on the UN agencies who ultimately gave into Saudi Arabia’s demands, drawing criticism from numerous human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, as well as the Secretary General of the UN. Ban Ki Moon responded to criticism of falling into Saudi demands by stating “there had been unacceptable and undue pressure”.

Western Nations arming and aiding Saudi forces

In response to the deepening crises caused by the Saudi-led coalition, Ban urged the countries of the Global North that they should “control arms flows to actors that may use them in ways that breach international humanitarian law”, as numerous Western nations have supplied billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is currently the world’s largest importer of arms, having imported over $65 Billion of arms in 2015, the United States is their largest supplier, while Canada, France, UK and Germany also have large stakes in the Saudi arms industry.

Nevertheless, while arming Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, the US, the UK, Canada and Germany gave over $430 million in aid to Yemen, accounting for nearly a quarter of its total humanitarian relief funding in 2015. The latter humanitarian assistance has come in the form of food, medical equipment, and monetary aid.

Despite the outcry of the international community for Saudi Arabia to stop the use of cluster bombs, thousands of Yemenis people continue to be killed and injured by this blacklisted weapon, which the US has continued to supply to Saudi Arabia, despite its controversy and terrifying aftermath.

Canada’s stake in the Middle Eastern arms market has also become more salient in the past years, so much so that Canada is currently the second largest supplier of arms to the Middle East after the US. The Trudeau government recently signed off on a $15 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia, providing them with military vehicles despite their poor human rights record. Critics of Canada’s increased arms sales to Saudi Arabia, such as Peggy Mason, Canada’s former UN ambassador for disarmament has stated “it has been a bedrock principle of Canadian export control policy … that Canadian arms exports would not contravene international law … [and] , would not contribute to gross human rights abuses and would not undermine international peace and security”. However, Canada’s continued support of Saudi Arabia merely undermines regional security, the effectiveness of their humanitarian aid and escalates the conflict in Yemen.

The role of the Global North in supporting the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is not merely limited to the sale of arms, but also entails the assistance of military advisors. Subsequently, the UK has provided its military advisors to the Saudi-led collation to aid in their bombing raids across the country, which has been the cause of countless casualties.

Thus, the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen had led to an ongoing humanitarian crisis, which involves many players, some of which are from the Global North. Nonetheless, many Global North countries such as the US, Canada and UK have given hundreds of millions of dollars in humanitarian assistance to Yemen. However, despite their aid, the Global North continues to turn a blind eye to the situation in Yemen, as they’ve failed to take a proactive approach to solving the ongoing crisis and have instead decided to sell arms to Saudi Arabia, as well as provide logistical and tactical assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Therefore, the Global North needs to create more of a dialogue around the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, so that they may formulate a coherent policy that can tackle the escalating crisis, rather than deepen it.

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